While SMP Racing may be a new entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the crew behind the two-car LMP2 effort are no strangers to success in the globe-trotting series.
That’s because the Russian-backed outfit is being run by endurance experts AF Corse, the same squad that operated the FIA WEC race-winning Pecom Racing effort over the last two seasons, with one of its star drivers remaining on board through the transition as well.
“It’s the continuity of last year but now with SMP and even stronger,” Nic Minassian told Sportscar365. “It’s been done very well because there’s lots of stability. All of the people who used to run Pecom are now with SMP. They’ve added some additional people who are strong.”
For Minassian, it’s meant a brand-new driver’s suit and also the new task of helping get his teammates up to speed in the Oreca 03 Nissans, with four of them LMP2 rookies.
While GT ace Maurizio Mediani drove in a handful of races in SMP’s limited-season LMP2 program in the ELMS last year, Russian drivers Sergey Zlobin, Kirill Ladygin, Viktor Shaitar and Anton Ladygin are all coming to grips of prototype racing for the first time.
“I’ve been helping them a lot,” Minassian said. “Speed-wise, it hasn’t been too much of a problem. I think it’s more about understanding these cars. I’ve been here giving them the experience I’ve got.
“Maurizio is very quick. He drives very well and knows his stuff. Sergey has been quite impressive as well. I got a good feeling with him.
“On the other car, Viktor, Kirill and Anton have all been driving well. It’s going to be a bit harder in their car because the three of them are new to it but I’m still helping them as well.
“I’m not going to be selfish; I’m trying to help everybody driving-wise to be settled and to learn quicker.”
Having completed extensive pre-season testing, Minassian is confident heading into this weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone but realizes a new challenge at hand for all LMP2 competitors this year.
A new cost-cutting measure has limited teams to just four sets of tires per six-hour race, meaning drivers will have to double-stint their tires, which has added a new dynamic to the battle.
“All of the work that we needed to do during the winter has been done,” Minassian said. “The question mark is just in the race on how we compare to the others over double stints.
“It’s not like it used to be before, with single-stint performances, flat out, push like crazy, change your tires and go again.
“Now it’s going to be about how well you manage the wear of the tires and how long you’re going to go and how much you can keep your performance going.”
And while the LMP2 field has taken a significant hit, following the late withdrawals of Millennium Racing’s two Oreca Nissans and the new Strakka-Dome S103 Nissan, Minassian still expects a close fight for top class honors.
“Even if there is four cars, there are four competitive cars,” he said. “The strategy is the same. We’re going here trying to score points and finish the race.
“If we do that, then we will be strong because I think we’ll be competitive.”